Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status

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Course Description: 

This course is a graduate-level introduction to normative ethical theory, touching also on some metaethical issues. Our main goal will be to understand and examine different kinds of normative ethical theory: a theory that aims to answer substantive moral questions, such as: What acts are right or wrong? What kind of person should I be? We will discuss the contrast between utilitarian, or more broadly consequentialist, moral theories, and Kantian, or more broadly deontological, theories. We will discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of these types of normative ethical theory, as well as the third major approach to normative theory, virtue ethics, which focuses primarily on personal character. We finally consider the role of theory in ethics, and the demandingness objection to major ethical theories.  

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • demonstrate a clear understanding of the nature of consequentialist, deontological and virtue theoretic approaches to normative ethical theory
  • explain various strengths and weaknesses of the different normative theories
  • analyze and charitably reconstruct ethical arguments from readings, and summarise them clearly and succinctly
  • perform their own evaluation and critique of the validity and soundness of arguments, both orally and in writing

Two-year Philosophy MA students taking the class as a mandatory core course will be graded based on their answer on the in-class written final exam, taken as part of the Theoretical and Practical Philosophy exam scheduled for the end of spring term. The instructor reserves the right to adjust the grade for the final exam by up to 1/3 of a grade to take into account participation and other assignments completed during the course.


A selection of five possible final exam questions will be distributed after the end of the course; one of these (chosen at random) will be the question for the exam; you will have one hour to write about it. It is advisable to prepare outlines in advance for each possible question and memorize these. I strongly encourage you to work together with your classmates to review the course material and discuss how you might answer the final exam questions. However, memorizing and reproducing on the exam answers written by others is not a good way to learn to do philosophy, and may amount to plagiarism. Do not do this!


Other students taking the class for credit will be graded based on a 2,500 word final paper on a topic agreed in advance with the instructor. The grade for the class may be adjusted from the grade for the final paper by up to 1/3 of a grade to take account of participation and other assignments completed during the term.


All course requirements must be completed in order to earn a passing grade for the class.

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